SFTV professor shares insights on producing and teaching while working in the biz

Faculty member and veteran producer Maggie Murphy joined LMU in 2018 and is the mastermind behind the new creative producing specialization in SFTV’s graduate program in Film and Television Production. She’s been involved in the development and supervision of many popular and critically acclaimed TV shows, such as The Simpsons; Buffy the Vampire Slayer; The X-Files; Malcolm in the Middle and Veronica Mars. We asked her to share more about this field and her own work.

In a nutshell, how would you describe creative producing?

Creative producers are the people who have the vision for a film or TV project from start to finish. They bring together all the parties and resources needed to bring a project to the screen and to get it out to the world. For instance, they’re usually the people who buy the rights to a great book to make it into a film, and then they put the filmmaking team together.

I’ve been a creative producer for more than 25 years and I learned most of what I know on the job. That isn’t always the best way to learn things, so I’m excited to have created a specialized track for training in this area for our students. It will give them a leg up when entering the industry.

What’s the most important thing a student should know about becoming a creative producer?

I tell my students that I’m good at everything, but I’m great at nothing. A creative producer must get the best performance from writers, directors, actors, set designers, costume designers, editors. You’re there to support them and to help them help you realize your vision. I’m good at recognizing and hiring great people to work their magic—that’s a real skill, and it’s one I teach and impart to my students. My projects are like my babies that I shepherd, and if I’m responsible for making a project come together, I’m going to hire the best people I can so they can make it happen.

You’ve worked as a producer both domestically and internationally. What’s different about the entertainment industry outside the U.S.?

In Europe, the industry has been trying to emulate the creative process the U.S. has used in TV.  In the past and currently, they look up to the United States for “Tiffany” TV shows.  European TV is business/producer-driven, and American TV is driven by a writer/creative vision. For years I’ve been teaching European film writers how to become TV writers and to teach our structure and form. I also do extensive master classes in the leading programs in Europe, from Serial Eyes in Berlin to Midpoint in Prague. Both are 10-month programs. For Midpoint, we typically meet three times a year: first to flesh out an idea, next to share a rough draft of a script, and then to share a final draft. We Zoom throughout the year as well.

The industry is changing quickly, though, and a lot of wonderful TV is coming out of Europe. One favorite show is Derry Girls from Ireland. My students turned me onto that one.

You’ve worked with some of the biggest names and series in TV. How does that work inform your teaching?

I love teaching and I love how talented, kind, intuitive, and courageous LMU students are. I have been honored to work intensively and intimately with some of the very best talent in the industry, and I strive to bring that experience and knowledge to my students.

I also bring the same passion to teaching that I bring to the projects I’ve worked on. I love stories that make a difference in the world in their own ways, on their own terms. The goal might be social commentary, or to make people laugh, or to get an audience to understand a world that they don’t know much about. My continuing goal for all my students is to prepare them for the realities of the business, while at the same time nurturing their creative spirit to tell the stories that only they can tell.

While it’s a tough goal to achieve, I do believe it’s possible to create a learning environment that instills the knowledge needed to find professional success, while also allowing students to explore and discover their own values that will influence their personal success and fulfillment. By knowing the business inside and out and exploring it through every lens, I hope to give students a greater personal understanding of where they fit into this world. I try to inspire my students to find their own unique passions and to learn how to develop them into shows that inspire others and feed their own hearts and souls.

What projects are you working on right now?

One is called Babyland, a one-hour drama about a luxury hotel where fertile women give birth for infertile couples. The project was chosen for the prestigious C21 Media pitch list for drama in London, the KMW CoProduction meetings in Kiev, and it was a huge success at the Berlin Film Festival in 2020. We’re entertaining several offers.

Another project is Turbo, a new series in development with HBO Europe. Turbo follows aging mobster Dragan as he struggles to adapt to the new times by fighting teenage hot-shots on the rise – realizing that his son is becoming the very face of this emerging “turbo-generation.” We hope to begin shooting in Serbia in 2021.

I’m also working on a great new show called Hope Falls with Katie Ford, writer of TV and movies including Miss Congeniality, Desperate Housewives, Transporter, and Family Ties. It’s a dark comedy about a small town that straddles the U.S./Canada border, with half in Quebec and half in Vermont. It is sold to the CBC network in Canada.